Saracens 20-9 Bath, Aviva Premiership, April 3
McCall tips Stevens for England call-up
April 3, 2011
Matt Stevens has been tipped for a place in the England squad © Getty Images
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall believes that Matt Stevens will be in England's squad for this year's World Cup in New Zealand.
Stevens' top-flight career appeared to be over in 2009 when he was hit with a two-year ban for testing positive for cocaine. However, the South African-born prop has resurrected his career with Saracens and turned in a man of the match-winning display against his former employers Bath at Vicarage Road on Sunday in what was only his eighth game since returning from suspension in January. Consequently, McCall is in no doubt that Stevens should be named in Martin Johnson's World Cup squad.
"To have been out for that length of time and reach the level he has so soon is a big achievement," the Irishman said after his side's 20-9 victory. "He's still not quite there, Matt knows that, but the more he plays the better he'll get and he's had a couple of starts in a row now.
"I think the World Cup is a realistic ambition for him. His adaptability and flexibility to play both sides is a big feather in his cap. He's an outstanding player with a big contribution around the pitch. I'd be very surprised if he's not there."
Stevens is not quite as confident about his chances of making the plane for New Zealand but he does believe that he can work his way into the reckoning by helping Sarries in their push for Premiership glory.
"There's still quite a way for me to go to break into what is quite a good, developing England team," he said. "But helping Saracens into the Premiership final would be a great platform for me to do that. If you play in a Premiership final then you're pushing for a place with England. Johnno's said he's watching me and my progress and that's all I can ask for."
Stevens certainly caught the eye in Watford on Sunday, playing a key role in the move which led to the only try of the game, which was scored in fine fashion by David Strettle. That score was the one true moment of attacking quality in a game in which the goal-kickers largely dominated, with fullback Alex Goode landing five penalties for Sarries and Butch James knocking over three for a toothless Bath side.
The result means that Saracens are now within touching distance of a home draw in the play-offs while Bath's hopes of finishing in the top four are all but over, as they now lie 13 points behind Northampton with just one game in hand. Despite their unenviable position, Bath boss Steve Meehan is refusing to throw in the towel.
"We've got 25 points left to play for and our objective must be to win as many as we can," he said. "That's all we can do and we'll see what happens in other fixtures."
Addressing the decision to name Stevens man of the match, Meehan was not utterly convinced that his former pupil was a worthy recipient, saying: "I was surprised he was man of the match. He's still a little bit raw and has got some work to do. He's just returning into the game. We'll see what happens over time."
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